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Youngsters face job struggle

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Swiss school-leavers are facing a tough time breaking into the job market, following a sharp decline in apprenticeships.

Education experts estimate that as many as 10,000 young job-seekers may be unable to find an apprenticeship this summer.

Apprenticeships form the most traditional route into the Swiss workforce, and the anticipated shortfall looks set to bring more bad news to an already ailing domestic economy.

General unemployment in Switzerland is already close to a five-year high. The latest jobless figures released on Monday put unemployment in February at 3.9 per cent, or more than 140,000 people, after a 0.1 per cent rise since January.

Now it’s feared that thousands of youngsters could be heading straight from school into the jobless statistics when the school year comes to an end in July.

Zurich vulnerable

Switzerland’s biggest city, Zurich, could be particularly hard-hit by the lack of apprenticeship places.

On Monday, politicians from both the city and cantonal government launched a joint project aimed at finding a solution to the problem.

“Compared to last year, there are already 500 less apprenticeships available,” warns Ernst Buschor, a cantonal government head.

“What makes it worse is that we also have some 500 more youngsters than last year set to leave school in the summer so we could be talking about as many as 1,000 young job-seekers in Zurich alone.”

“More Apprentices”

A project in canton Zurich, called “More Apprentices”, will attempt to reduce that number using a three-pronged strategy.

Firstly, the project leaders will approach the canton’s biggest employers and urge them to take on more apprentices. Secondly, school-leavers will be encouraged to consider apprenticeships in what are traditionally under-subscribed careers.

Finally the project will emphasise the need for solutions to help bridge a possible gap between leaving school and starting work – such as an extra year’s schooling, language courses abroad or extra tuition combined with work experience.

“We have always promised Swiss school children that we will educate right up until they are ready to start their working lives, and we can’t go back on that promise now,” says the project’s leader, Luzi Schucan.

“Facing at least a year without work is hard enough on adults, but for youngsters it’s particularly difficult.”

Vote in May

Various ideas have already been put forward for tackling the decline in apprenticeships at a national level.

On May 18, the Swiss population is set to vote on an initiative that aims to increase funding for apprenticeships by taking contributions from companies who choose not to take on apprentices.

The proposal has been criticised by the national government, however, for being overly bureaucratic. The economics minister, Joseph Deiss, has argued that the initiative would effectively allow companies to “buy their way out” of the apprenticeship system rather than encouraging them to get involved.

Deiss has decided to set up a national task force to help this year’s school-leavers, using an estimated SFr32 million ($24 million) in emergency funding.

The extra boost is not the first time that Switzerland’s apprenticeship system has needed propping up with public money.

Following a drastic shortage during the mid 1990s, parliament approved funding worth SFr160 million.

swissinfo, Mark Ledsom in Zurich

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR